The Arty Semite

How Ernst Kantorowicz Escaped The Nazis

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy of Frankfurt am Main City Archive
Ernst Kantorowicz circa 1930.

The historian Ernst Kantorowicz, born to a German Jewish family in present-day Poznań, is remembered for such magisterial studies as “The King’s Two Bodies,” still available from Princeton University Press and a study of King Frederick the Second.

Kantorowicz’s dramatic life has also attracted attention, from service in World War I to his escape from the Nazis, as recounted in Alain Boureau’s “Histoires d’un historien: Kantorowicz” from Les editions Gallimard, published in English translation in 2001 from The Johns Hopkins University Press as “Kantorowicz: Stories of a Historian.”

Yet few readers of books by and about Kantorowicz will fully understand how he survived with war without reading the eminent British historian Leslie Mitchell’s definitive “Maurice Bowra: A Life,” out in paperback in 2010 from Oxford University Press.

Mitchell explains how Kantorowicz was stuck in Germany in fall, 1938. Bowra, a gay Oxford classicist of renowned sedentariness (indeed, a sculpted bronze memorial of Bowra at Oxford transforms him into an armchair., hurried to Germany to rescue Kantorowicz. Thereafter, “one way or another, Kantorowicz believed that Bowra had saved his life,” Mitchell writes, by intervening with authorities.

Kantorowicz was allowed to immigrate to America, where he ended his distinguished career at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. Mitchell explains Bowra’s motivation for this valiant assistance: “as friend, and possibly as lover, [Kantorowicz] had enriched Bowra’s life.” Based on his research, Mitchell reiterates that Bowra and Kantorowicz “may, at some point, have been lovers,” based on surviving correspondence and the fact that they met when Kantorowicz was one of the Jewish flock of devotees in the homoerotic circle of German poet Stefan George, a group within a group which also included the poet Karl Wolfskehl and philosopher Kurt Riezler.

Bowra’s memoirs, originally published by Harvard University Press, describe young Kantorowicz as “lithe, yet of masculine firmness, sophisticated, elegant in dress, gesture, and speech.” Even while trapped in Nazi Germany, Kantorowicz kept up a flirting correspondence with Bowra, responding when the classicist sent him a photo of himself as a youth by declaring how Bowra “must have been extremely handsome in your ‘buggerable’ days.”

When Kantorowicz died in 1963, there were three photographs beside his bed: his father, Bowra, and Stefan George. On hearing of his demise, Bowra wrote to their mutual friend, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, to praise Kantorowicz as a “real mensch,” adding that Kantorowicz “stirred my intelligence, bolstered my morale, amused me with dazzling paradoxes and intuitions and formulations.”

Read some of Kantorowicz’s letters (some of them displaying a fairly racy sense of humor and other writings, at a website set up by one of Kantorowicz’s graduate students, the historian Ralph E. Giesey.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Alain Boureau, Ernst Kantorowicz, Leslie Mitchell, Maurice Bowra, Ralph E. Giesey

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.